Productive Destruction: The 7-Fold Way to Triple Your Performance
We’ve got success all wrong.
Common wisdom says, “To get ahead, do more.”
Well, common wisdom hasn’t done the heavy thinking.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” — Mark Twain
When I sat down and studied people with real results, I found the reverse. Instead of doing more… They simplify.
I’ve used this “deletion first” approach to triple my productivity in the last 2 months—going from 2.5 hours of productive work a day (normal for Americans) to more than 8.
Addition by subtraction. Truth is not as simple as it appears.
Some common false wisdoms:
- To lose weight, add exercise. Wrong. Subtract calories instead. Successful dieters lose weight by removing the the most damaging foods and eating habits. Tim Ferriss’s massively successful Slow-Carb Diet is a classic example — 4 of the 5 rules are about subtraction (e.g. “No white foods”).
- To do more, add waking time. Wrong. To do more, subtract waking time — go to sleep. I’m aim for 9 hours a day. A few hours of lost sleep can drop productivity by 50% or more.
- To cure sickness, add medication. Wrong. Doctors like to treat symptoms instead of causes. Consider a via negativa approach and eliminate potential causes instead. (This is how I cured a decade of my own skin problems)
To do more, begin by making space. I call this process ‘productive destruction’.
As Bruce Lee famously put it—
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”
Let the wildfires burn…
The 7 Deletions…
What follows are 7 “deletions” I’ve personally used to simplify my life, triple my productivity and drastically improve my quality of life.
Note: Some of these are controversial — do your research before you pull out your pitchforks. I’ve done mine.
 Delete the chair
Welcome to my “office” —
This is the “squat desk” . The correct way to use a chair.
Why do this?
Because sitting kills you.
Each hour of sitting reduces life expectancy by 22 minutes. Americans sit 13 hours a day. That’s 72 days of lost life in a year.
“Sitting is the new smoking.” — James Levine
Chair-deletion comes with a host of benefits: weight loss, life extension, improved digestion, better posture, reduced back pain, and on and on.
I use a squatting desk because I travel, but for most, I recommend starting with a standing desk.
Here’s how to get started:
- Delete the chair from your work space. Don’t let temptation lie around. You’ll get tired and try to use it
- Get a standing desk like this one. Adjustments takes a few weeks, but the effort is well worth the long term effects.
- Work in 25–5 microcycles. Set a timer and work for 25 minutes. Then, take a 5 minute break (sit down if you have to). Repeat as necessary.
 Delete your possessions
Everything I own—
I get a lot of criticism for only owning 30 things.
Some think it’s drastic, others think it’s a rich-man’s game.
I tend to ignore critics, but here’s what I tell my friends —
- When I feel snarky. Mark Zuckerberg wears the same thing every day. Reduce cognitive load so you can do more creative thinking. Got me, bro?
- When I feel philosophical. Aside from base necessities, new things don’t improve life quality. Habitual purchasing sends a rush of hormones to the brain followed by a crash and desire for more… Sound familiar? Shopping is a drug. Get off the hedonic treadmill.
How to get started:
- Make a list of all your things
- Highlight everything you use less than once in a 30-day period.
- Sell them or give them away
Beware of the “but I might need this” syndrome. You probably won’t.
An easy way to test this is to bring less than 100 things on a 2-week vacation. You’ll find that the “essentials” are anything but. (For example, I haven’t used shampoo for years.)
 Delete danger foods (The Shotgun Approach)
My daily lunch template —
Protein, veggies, fat. Sometimes carbs and never sugar.
Eating is funky business. Despite what doctors will say, we don’t have a good understanding of what’s going on.
There are dozens of potential reactions that could be making you sick, fat and stupid. The reactions then cascade into thousands of cross-reactions…
The best way I’ve found to tackle dietary deletion is the shotgun approach:
- Remove all danger foods for 30 days. We don’t know what’s cause what. Delete first and see what happens.
- Take self-diagnostics. Record focus time, general well being, happiness, etc. These are a lot more quantifiable than you think.
- Slowly reintroduce danger foods. Keep tracking the same markers to look for correlations. I used this to discover my dairy and nut allergies (after 10 years of horrific acne).
Or, if you’re lazy, consider getting a comprehensive allergy panel. Get the blood test, not the skin one.
Note: I’m on a form of the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet. Some of it’s benefits: smoother focus (no energy dips), it reverses injuries and it keeps you lean (<10%bf) all year. More on this another time.
 Delete distractions
My guardian angel—
I know my own lack of self control.
So I don’t give myself the chance.
Block out the most productive hours of your day and focus only on essentials. I like to block my first 4 morning hours (for writing) and my last 4 evening hours (for reading).
How to start:
- Track your time for a full week in 15-minute blocks. I use a spreadsheet, but can use an automated tool like RescueTime as well. Make sure you track smartphone usage (not just computer).
- Identify the 1–3 activities with the most negative impact on your life
- Block them with an app like Cold Turkey or Freedom. If it’s a physical activity, delete it from your environment (if possible).
- Repeat this every few months to identify new paint points
 Delete paper
I used to carry around 3–4 notebooks filled with thoughts dumped from my brain. It was a huge headache.
An idea from Sebastian Marshall finally solved it.
Here’s what I do at the end of each day:
- Do or todo small tasks. I do what I can; the rest go to my todo list.
- Record and store longer ideas. I will type up ideas and store them in either Trello (for “projects”) or Evernote (for “research”).
- Scan “visual” and “inspiration” to the cloud. Some notes are aesthetically pleasing or don’t convert well into text. I scan them to Notebook titled “Paper” using Evernote.
Note: If you haven’t read Sebastian Marshall’s stuff, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Gateless. I’ve read it 3 times and I’m still taking notes.
 Delete your “friends”
My all-time favorite quote—
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”— Jim Rohn
True friendships are important. You don’t have time for fake ones.
I’ve written about this before, but your “inner circle” of friends is the biggest catalyst for future life outcomes. A single “red flag” personality can bring you, and your entire circle, down.
Don’t let it happen by chance.
Delete your ‘friends’ to make room for ‘FRIENDS’.
- Make a list of your closest 10–20 friends
- Score your last 3 meetings with each from 1–5 for ‘satisfaction’ (how happy it made you) and ‘relevancy’ (how in line it was with your goals).
- Take the average of the sum scores for each person.
- Distance people with a score of 4/10 or less.
After you’ve created space, you can work on adding positive influences to your life.
 Delete your mind
The most important one—
I know, I know. You’re sick of hearing about it. But all spiritual voodoo aside, it’s a mental deload that just works. There’s no better 5 minute investment I can think of.
There are many ways to meditate (breathing, mantra, walking, movement, etc.) but make sure you are doing some kind of meditative practice.
Even 5 minutes can add several hours of focus to your day.
To start, try a zen “100 breaths” approach I learned in Japan —
- Take deep breaths while counting to 100 (count breaths, not seconds).
- If you lose count, start over.
- Continue until you reach 100 breaths or a total of 5 minutes.
Simple mind, simple everything. Give it a shot. You’ll see incredible results.